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Historical Novels -Bobi Andrews

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Grandma Owens--Up Close and Personal

         REFERENCE TREES FOR OWENS/FUNKHAUSER FAMILIES                                                   

John Owens - Rosannah Mason
   Samuel Owens - Polly Kilgore
      Franklin James Owens - Elizabeth (Betsy) Baker
          William F. Owens - Rosetta Elvira Jane Funkhauser

Jacob Funkhauser - Mary Richardson
   Charity Funkhauser - Robert Martin
   John David Funkhauser - Dora Gallaher
   Benjamin Funkhauser - Unknown
   Ephraim Funkhauser - Priscilla Robinson
   Martha Funkhauser - Abel Boydstun
   Rosetta Elvira Jane Funkhauser - William F. Owens
              James, Myrtie, Bertha, Walter, Robert, Jacob and
              Joe Owens - Vasta Parker
                    Janet Owens - Paul Fredstrom
                    Eugene Owens - Unknown
             Mary Owens - Wesley Leland Ellis
                   Warren Ellis - Mardelle Larsen
                   Rose Ellis - Kenneth Nuernberger
                   Barbara Ellis - Alvin Konopik/Robert Andrews
            Grace Owens - Harold Wynne
                  Molly Rose Wynne - Bill Barber
                  Robert  Wynne - Unknown


                      GRANDMA’S SECRETS

(As told by Grandchildren Mollie Rose Wynne Barber, Jan Fredstrom, Warren Ellis, Rose Nuernberger and Barbara Andrews)

                                                       Rosetta Elvira Jane Funkhauser Owens

The signs were all there. Like most of us asked to describe our grandmothers, we echo the stereotype of a grand old lady who led a life devoted to her children and grandchildren. Her granddaughter, Molly Rose Wynne Barber, relates, “From the earliest age that I can remember, I fully believed that my Grandmother (Rose Owens) whom I was named after, sat on a throne up in the sky somewhere right between God and Jesus.”

Molly continues: "How could I believe otherwise?  Not only did my mother extol her as God's No. 1 Saint, but went on to say that when her mother died the world would hear the Heavenly Choir sing, and just as the Dove of Peace alighted on Jesus when He was baptised by John the Baptist, this same Dove would sit on top of her mother's casket."

Today, Rose Nuernberger, and I nod in agreement remembering Grandma’s picture of Jesus (standing at the door knocking) hanging in the parlor, her devout beliefs, and her social views matching earlier days of her Mennonite ancestors. No one would think of uttering profanity in her presence and the sacredness of family was her anchor. A Free Methodist, she was totally against liquor, believing strong drink was leading the country into ruin. Of course, boys and girls should dress modestly and never, never swim together in a public pool or meet without a proper chaperone. She probably never uttered the word “Sex,” but made it clear to her children that physical contact between a man and a woman was proper within marriage and the only way for a woman to enter heaven. Her Parker House rolls were legendary. . .sometimes we by-passed the meat and potatoes and made whole meals of the rolls. In her eighties, when we visited her, she’d walk a few blocks to a neighborhood grocery store on Greenwood Street and buy a half-pound of bacon for breakfast and make her famous rolls.

Rose adds:  Dad always teased grandma because she ran out of bacon one time.  When leaving, he quipped, "Too bad you ran out of bacon, Grandma."  It would take her a minute to realize he was joking.

Her children revered her since it was her strength that held the family together. So crippling was William’s injury, that in order to walk, he had to work up so much momentum that the only way he could stop himself was to extend his arms straight out in front of him until his hands hit the wall. The three youngest children, Joe, Mary and Grace, took turns being with her for many years after William died in 1934.

Molly relates, “My mother said she believed everything that she learned at her mother’s knee and never thought differently through all the changes that took place in her lifetime.” Rose Nuernberger and I remember our mother writing to Grandma every week even when she had to borrow from her mother-in-law the three cents for postage during the depression. On Greenwood Street, Joe Owens, our uncle, lived next door and checked on her every morning and stopped by every evening after work to kiss her good night.  Jan Fredstrom remembers packing her bag like she was going to Mars and "sleeping over" next door at Grandma's.  She said they played checkers while Grandma told stories of her past.  And you don't need to guess twice--homemade biscuits and honey for breakfast!

By now, you get the idea—Grandma Owens was a grand old lady who led a pious life devoted to her children and grandchildren.

BUT, who was really Grandma Owens? Read on.

First a little about her ancestry and early years. She was born, the youngest of six children, on September 9, 1866, in Ripley County, Indiana, to Jacob Funkhauser and Mary Richardson. The Richardsons were basket makers and caners and Jacob took up the trade. Most probably, they maintained a garden patch and a cow or two; probably pigs, chickens, and a horse.

                      (Funkhauser Cabin located in the Ripley County (Iowa) Historical Society Museum)
Sometime after 1860, Mary Richardson contracted tuberculosis, and in the late 1870’s the family moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for the climate and hot springs. Mary Richardson Funkhauser died in 1880, when Rosetta was fourteen years old. Jacob remarried Agnes Pope, but a few years later (1886) he died. We know Rosetta (we call her “Rose,” her family probably called her “Elvie”) lived with her parents because she too contracted the highly communicable tuberculosis sometime before she reached the age of twenty. During Mary Richardson’s extended illness, Rosetta’s oldest sister, Charity, (“Chat”) was probably the “mother” in the family at least during Rosetta’s first seven years.

Did Rosetta live a happy childhood? The burden of their harsh circumstances and of her mother’s illness hung daily over the household. Life, with seven children in a small cabin, mirrored their plain, Mennonite heritage. One could imagine that providing for a family of nine by basket weaving was a constant challenge for her father, which left the means for pleasures few and far between. Although there is evidence that Rosetta as an adult rarely complained, her childhood was difficult and left her yearning for a different life. When she was about fourteen, she and a neighbor boy stole her father’s horse and buggy, and fled for parts unknown. Was this a romance or an adventure?  We can only guess. Two or three days later Jacob found them and literally drug the unwilling Rosetta home.

Either because she was unwilling to accept a new mother, or her father could not adequately care for her or her invalid mother’s illness, or because she wished to live with Chat, she followed her sister to Utica, Nebraska, where she struggled to recover from tuberculosis. During her years at Utica, with the Martins adopting the Brethren church, she immersed herself in the foundation of heart-felt religion. She knew her scriptures and was an active participant. It was in Utica that she met William Franklin Owens whom she married in 1885 when she was nineteen. When friends warned William that his new bride-to-be might be dead within a year, he replied, “If that be so, then she shall die mine.”

                                                                                    William Franklin Owens

Land speculators advertised Utica as the garden spot of America and the town became a popular place for homesteading. However, grasshoppers arrived and devastated farms leaving families with insurmountable hardships. Seeking better prospects, William and Rosetta followed the Chicago/Kansas rail lines to Goodland, Kansas, where they homesteaded and lived in a soddy for seven years and bore three children.

Later about 1889, they proved up a homestead, but subsequent drought made their dream of prosperity unattainable.

                                                                                         Typical Wagon Train on the Prairie

In an essay, “Our Family Doors,” Barbara Andrews writes the following describing “soddy” life in Goodland, Kansas:
                                            Will and Rosetta (Elvie) Owens

                                                      Goodland, Kansas

“But Will, can we possibly survive without trees? I dreamt about trees all last night. All we have is dust and mud and if it doesn’t stop raining, everything will be ruined.” Elvie continued to wring from rags the muddy water swishing in from the top of the door.

“What do you expect me to do? No good trees here, except a few cottonwoods along the Republican River. Soft cottonwoods do not make cabins,” Will responded. “We ought to be thankful. Doesn’t rain that much here and drought is worse."

“I don’t know which is worse, this mud, or the flies, mosquitoes and snakes that come after the rain stops,” Elvie answered. “They live better than we do.”

“This is our land, Elvie, and once we get a crop or two, we will be able to fix things around here. I’ll go see if I can chink up the door and windows better, but they just dry up again.” Will’s face showed no hope. “I can’t seem to keep a tight enough fit with the sod to make the difference. Cottonwood poles and framing warp regardless of sun or rain.”

“At least this shower dampens down the dust.” Elvie peered through the door to see dark, ominous clouds moving on to the east. “By noon tomorrow we’ll have the dust again blowing through the cracks.”

“Elvie, neither dust nor mud will take our land away. All we need is a crop or two, mother cow to calve soon, and our ox to pull the plow. Noticing Elvie’s grimace and muddy hands rubbing her protruding belly, he added, “I know you are heartbroken with Myrtie getting sick and passing, but James and Bertha are well and the baby you carry will be our new blessing. God is our salvation.”

Elvie put down the bucket of muddy water and stood at the soddy door. With Will’s strong arm on her shoulder, each looked to the clearing sky in the west knowing an uncertain tomorrow lay ahead on the prairie.

                                                                    Typical Western Kansas Homestead


Joe Owens in his autobiography states that drought starved them out of Kansas. With her brother, John Funkhauser, and the Martins living in Holyoke, Colorado, William and Rosetta pulled up stakes and moved with their yoked ox and three children to Holyoke where they lived ten years on rented land. Sons Walter, Robert, Jacob and Joseph were born in Colorado.

Left to Right:  Rosetta, Brother John David Funkhauser and wife Dora, Chat Martin
Front Row:  Robert Martin

At Holyoke, William suffered a serious accident with a runaway horse and hayrack that left him cantankerous with constant pain and crippled for the remainder of his life. Rosetta’s burdens increased as William became despondent, sometimes taking out his pain on her and his children.  It was a hard life.

Early in 1901, the family packed wagons again and moved to Cambridge, Nebraska and then relocated by oxen to St. Edward, Nebraska. The St. Edward years were the teen and young adult years for Joe, Mary, and Grace—their older brothers and sister married and gone from home. It was during this time that Joe, Mary and Grace supported their parents before moving to Lincoln, Nebraska. Joe and Mary attended Nebraska Wesleyan University with Joe first working to pay for Mary and then Mary working to pay for Joe. Joe became credit manager for Miller and Paine, Mary a teacher in Cedar County, Nebraska, and Grace a bookkeeper for a light and power company.

Mary, Rosetta, William and Grace

Joe Owens

Excerpts from Mollie Barber: “I know from a letter I found that Mother had saved that Grandma suffered from severe headaches for which relief or cure were never found. Mother said that Grandma would take to her bed every so often for several days at a time from sheer exhaustion and illness.”

“Grandma Owens did beautiful quilting and embroidery as well as crocheting. My mother said that she had as many ruffles on her dresses as any of her classmates. Laundry day was every Monday and there were a lot of clothes to wash. Then everything dried on the line, most things heavily starched and ironed with those old heavy ugly non electric irons. Grandma made a fun party out of laundry day with extra goodies and a big pot of ham and bean soup. Though a snobbish playmate once told me in an effort to diminish my family that ham and beans was only meant to be an incidental side dish, I put no stock in her words and consider them to be the grandest of means clear till today.”

Mollie Barber further tells us that her mother (and probably the other children) were highly embarrassed to be in church with Grandma because she would not just sit in the pew and confess sins simply and quietly. Rather, she would go out and kneel in the center of the aisle as she asked for God’s forgiveness, and in a very loud voice she would enumerate all her sins recent and past one by one.

Throughout her life, with the realities of living on the early prairie, lack of medicines and doctors, and the hard times of the depression, she battled illnesses and disease—her mother’s and her tuberculosis, her daughter Myrtie’s meningitis, her daughter Bertha’s cancer, her son, Robert’s early death, Grace’s scarlet fever, and William’s infirmities. A tiny, frail woman, she birthed nine children and with her incapacitating headaches, she may have suffered migraines or possibly fibromyalgia, the latter uncharacteristically suffered by two of her granddaughters and a great granddaughter.

Grandma was intensely independent and rarely changed her mind. "Attention to appearance was a staple. It seemed to be that taking care of the presses and creases could get you anywhere you wanted to go. Included in Grandma’s personal grooming, she faithfully brushed her hair one hundred strokes every night and cleaned under her fingernails.”

Warren remembers:  "I remember the one time we were at Grandma Owens for Thanksgiving.   The picture of everybody was taken except for me. (same picture as below)  Does anyone remember the Ellis car? It had no heater so Mom heated several flat irons and wrapped them in towels to keep our feet warm.  It was cold the day we left.  Lots of blankets and warm clothes, we made it to Grandmas okay.  On returning home, the brakes broke so Dad ran the car into the bank to stop it.  I don't remember how he fixed the brakes but we made it home okay.  I do remember eating Grandma's parker house rolls  (That makes Grandma's rolls unanimous!!!).  You were probably six or seven years old and I was probably eleven or twelve and Rose eight or nine (just guessing)."

"There was one other event that I remember--Gene played the trombone so we all listened to him play."

To everyone’s teasing—especially to Leland Ellis, her son-in-law—she frugally saved every bit of string even those too short for any useful purpose. She kept a mother-lode of quilting scraps in her bottom chest of drawers. She was a meticulous housekeeper until late in her eighties, when her aged faculties faded and the family arranged for her to enter a Lutheran nursing home in Lincoln. She died in 1959 at the age of 93 years, believing that William would be waiting for her at heaven’s door with Myrtie on his shoulders.

1947 Family Reunion, Lincoln, Nebraska
Living Children
Mary Ellis, Jake Owens, Joe Owens, Walter Owens, Frank Owens, Grace Wynne

1947 Family Reunion, Lincoln, Nebraska
Living Children with Husbands/Wives
Front Row:  Molly Rose Wynne, Janet Fredstrom, Rose Ellis, Barbara Ellis and
Robert Wynne.

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